(My apologies, but this will not have proper formatting and source citing this week, due to internet problems on my main computer).
My sister and brother-in-law visited this past week since they knew I would be home recovering from surgery. Cheri and Greg have served as a ministry couple numerous times throughout their marriage, and as a result, have helped to be great sounding boards for wisdom and guidance as I struggle with congregational issues back home. It was interesting how smoothly this week’s reading helped lay a foundation for one of the discussions we had when Greg asked me, “What is the biggest struggle facing your church right now?” It was not a question I have not actually asked myself a lot lately; so my answer was quick: “We have too many hateful gossips.” At one point, our author hit the nail on the head by stating that “The past creates the present.” In fact, it seems that the older our “past-member” grow, the more traditionally violent they become. They hate change so much that small deviations from their comfortable norm, seems to create hostility and grumbling throughout. Well, the reading later addresses the struggle I have been going back and forth on, by addressing what Heifetz addressed as challenges facing congregations.
1. Technical problems: These are easy to identify and thus, easy to try to rectify.
2. Hybrid problems: These are problems that are easy to identify, but the the solution may takea little more effort to resolve.
3. Adaptive Problems: Are problems that are difficult to identify, thus making it even more difficult to solve.
So how do you solve the problem of bitter, gossiping older members that cannot control their tongues; especially when standing next to visiting families. Well, based upon the scale above, I concluded that we have a hybrid problem…I KNOW the problem…there is no question what the problem is. However, not to sound bad, but dealing with older members is never a simple task; they often come with an sense of age-instilled entitlement; and a belief that they are not the problem. I’m sorry to disappoint you right now, but if you were waiting to see my answer to the problem…I DON’T HAVE ONE!!! I have been looking to our three biggest offenders, hoping to find a bigger underlying source of the anger. So far, this is where I am: (Initials will be used instead of names)
1. C: Her husband of many years passed away last year and her entire world has been turned upside down. She has moved from her old home, changed her duties at church, and even had some of her children move to town to be closer to her.
2. L: He used to be a past elder over our congregation, but stepped down a few years ago due to health issues. It seems he wants that immediate consideration he used to have as an elder, but without being part of the leadership team.
3. R: Her husband also passed away a couple years ago; but she was a pretty bitter woman before that. She has bad relationships with her children, and only has a relative she visits down south periodically; who she actually claims to not like that much.
Ironically, all three of these members…at some point in the past…were incredibly active and dedicated members of our church. They have all demonstrated strong work ethics, and even seemed to be regarded with a pretty high degree of Christian respect from the congregation. Sadly, they are now three of the worst gossips and insult-throwing members we have. “So it’s no surprise that individuals and groups resist change initially. However, resistance has many faces and wise change agents learn to recognize them.” I hope I don’t not have to admit a lack of wisdom simply because I have not recognized the correct course of action…yet. I believe there is a point in this process that our congregation must relay the damage to these member that they are doing; furthermore, it must be done without hurting them in the process. I have just not figured out a method that has successfully achieved that goal yet.
So for now, I am still praying about it. My greatest desire here is to see this congregation growing again; a goal that I truly believe is well within our ability. However, right now, it seems every effort toward that goal seems to be thwarted by the people in the back of the room. I hope we can overcome that obstacle.